Proudly presenting… Dr Toms Voits!

Please join me in congratulating newly minted Dr Toms Voits for having just defended his PhD viva. And did I say that no corrections were required?

Congratulations Toms!

Given the circumstances, we cannot celebrate this achievement properly; in lieu of that, I am sharing here an older photo showing how Toms must be feeling right now!

New pre-print: The effects of bilingualism on the structure of the hippocampus and on memory performance in ageing bilinguals

Voits, T., Robson, H., Rothman, J., & Pliatsikas, C. (2020). The effects of bilingualism on the structure of the hippocampus and on memory performance in ageing bilinguals.

To access, click here


Long-term management of more than one language has been suggested to lead to changes in cognition and the brain. This is particularly documented in older age, where bilingualism is associated with protective effects against decline, for example, affording compensation for symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease leading to delayed diagnosis relative to non-bilinguals. Herein, we focus on potential bilingualism effects in the hippocampus, a brain structure related to memory that is particularly vulnerable to cognitive ageing. Hippocampal volume has been shown to increase as a result of second language learning and use in younger adults. However, we do not know if this is maintained over the lifespan, that is, what the long-term effects might be examined in ageing. Herein, we examine hippocampal volume and performance in episodic memory tasks in healthy ageing long-term bilinguals compared to monolinguals. Results show greater hippocampal volume for the bilinguals, which was correlated to individual-level quantified use of the two languages. Thus, our results mirror that of immersive active bilingualism in younger populations. No significant effects of bilingualism were reported on episodic memory task performance. Our findings suggest that long-term active bilingualism leads to neuroprotective effects in the hippocampus, which we discuss in the context of the proposed bilingualism-induced brain reserve in older age literature.

Online Conference on Multilingualism 2020- Register now for free!

The next Conference on Multilingualism 2020 (COM2020) will be hosted by the Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM) at the University of Reading (UK) from the 23rd to the 25th of June 2020. Given the evolving worldwide COVID-19 situation we have decided to host COM2020 online and free for registered colleagues to attend.

The conference explores all aspects of multilingualism in the fields of linguistics, psychology, neurology, sociology, and educational sciences. We particularly welcome papers that address issues related to the five CeLM themes: Language and Literacy, Education, Neuroscience, Health and Migration.

We are very pleased to announce our keynote speakers:

Rowena Kasprowicz (University of Reading)

Joao Verissimo (University of Potsdam)

Minna Lehtonen  (University of Oslo)

The conference programme is now available to download here


The conference will take place in the form of a Zoom webinar and is now FREE OF CHARGE. However, we ask you to please register using this link.

Please note that only registered attendees will receive the link to access the webinar.

Our colleagues at the University of Massachusetts have done a great job of hosting CUNY online in March, and we have decided to follow a similar format for COM2020. To get an idea on how the conference will be set up, you can take a look here.


The Conference on Multilingualism has its origin in 2005 at the University of Trento, where it was known under the name of “Workshop on Bilingualism”. In 2016, the conference was renamed to “Conference on Multilingualism” in order to include a broader range of aspects of multilingualism. It is aimed at exploring the many different aspects of multilingualism in the fields of linguistics, psychology, neurology, sociology and educational sciences. In the past, it was held in Ghent and in Leiden. In 2020, it is coming to Reading!


Scientific Committee

Vicky Chondrogianni (University of Edinburgh)

Alice Foucart (Nebrija University)

Tanja Kupish (University of Konstanz)

Theo Marinis (University of Konstanz)

Robert Hartsuiker (University of Ghent)

Petros Karatsareas (Westminster University)

Merel Keijzer (University of Groningen)

Niels Schiller (Leiden University)


Local organising committee

Fraibet Aveledo

Arpita Bose

Ian Cunnings

Christos Pliatsikas

Ludovica Serratrice

Anna Wolleb


Home to 19000 students from over 150 countries, the University of Reading celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2016 and is a world-leading research-intensive university, where 98% of research is internationally recognized and 78% is classed as internationally excellent. In recent years, The University of Reading had gained a global presence with the launch of the Henley Business School (South Africa) in Johannesburg and the University of Reading Malaysia in Iskandar.



Researchers at the Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM) conduct, coordinate, and disseminate interdisciplinary research in linguistics, psychology, education, modern languages and classics. CeLM’s mission is to be recognised as an internationally renowned hub for research into linguistic, psychological, clinical and educational aspects of literacy and multilingualism. CeLM researchers have a strong commitment to engage with the general public, with NGOs, and with education and healthcare professionals to bridge the gap between research and practice and bring direct benefits to society beyond academia.




Twitter #COM2020

Don’t miss this year’s public Fairbrother lecture on bilingualism, ageing and the brain, at the University of Reading!

Thrilled to announce that our own Toms Voits has been selected to deliver the University of Reading 2020 Fairbrother lecture! The Fairbrother Lecture is a prestigious annual event where a single doctoral researcher from the University is selected to present their research to the general public. This year Toms will talk about his PhD research, focusing on the effects of bilingualism on the ageing brain (see below for a summary of the talk).  

So don’t miss this public event, due to take place on May the 12th, 7 pm, at the University of Reading! This public event is free but booking required, so make sure to secure your tickets. For more info, and to book your free ticket, click here.


Language is frequently in the headlines, from worries about people speaking too many languages or too few, to questions of whether bilingualism protects against cognitive decline in later life. Bilingualism has featured prominently in language debates, with stories often over-simplifying a more complex picture.

Cut to the heart of recent research on brain and language. Follow researcher Toms Voits on a journey through the uniqueness and complexity of the human brain’s capacity for language. This public lecture will introduce the ways in which two or more languages co-habit within a single mind, the processing issues of co-operation and competition between languages which arise from that, and the much-debated effects of bilingualism on mind and brain. With a focus on research on bilingualism in older adults, the lecture will examine some of the complexities that need to be unpicked in order to understand relationships between ageing, cognitive health and language.

New pre-print: Bilingualism and brain development


Pliatsikas, C., Meteyard, L., Veríssimo, J., DeLuca, V., Shattuck, K., & Ullman, MT. (2020): The effect of bilingualism on brain development from early childhood to young adulthood

To access. click here


Bilingualism affects the structure of the brain in adults. This is indicated by experience-dependent gray and white matter changes in brain structures implicated in language learning, processing, or control. However, limited evidence exists on how bilingualism may influence brain development. We examined the developmental trajectories of both grey and white matter structures in a cross-sectional study of a large sample (N=711 for grey matter, N=637 for white matter) of bilingual and monolingual participants, aged 3-21 years. Metrics of grey matter (thickness, volume, surface area) and white matter (fractional anisotropy, mean diffusivity) were examined across 41 cortical and subcortical brain structures and 20 tracts, respectively. We used generalised additive modelling to analyse whether, how, and where the developmental trajectories of bilinguals and monolinguals might differ. Bilingual and monolingual participants manifested distinct developmental trajectories in both gray and white matter structures. As compared to monolinguals, bilinguals showed: a) more gray matter (less developmental loss) starting during late childhood and adolescence, mainly in frontal and parietal regions (particularly in inferior frontal gyrus pars opercularis, superior frontal cortex, inferior and superior parietal cortex, and the precuneus); and b) higher white matter integrity (greater developmental increase) starting during mid-late adolescence, specifically in striatal-inferior frontal fibers. The data suggest that there may be a developmental basis to the well-documented structural differences in the brain between bilingual and monolingual adults.

New paper on methods for studying language acquisition in the brain, in System

Luk, G., Pliatsikas, C., & Rossi, E. (2020): Brain changes associated with language development and learning: A primer on methodology and applications. To appear in System

To access, click here


Brain plasticity associated with second language acquisition and learning has been a focus of research in the past two decades. Recent research on cognitive neuroscience has enriched current understanding on the neurological underpinning of second language learning. Beyond behavioral findings, examining brain functions and structures provides a biological explanation of how language acquisition (as a natural experience) and learning (as an active skill and knowledge acquisition process) shapes the human brain. Together, combining cognitive neuroscience methods and second language acquisition and learning has offered an opportunity for cross-disciplinary collaboration. To facilitate cross-disciplinary understanding and potential research collaboration, this review paper aims to provide an overview of the major cognitive neuroscience methodologies adopted to study second language acquisition and learning. A selection of empirical studies covers second language acquisition in developing children, bilingualism as a naturally-occurring experience, and short-term second language learning in laboratory settings. Brain structural (diffusion tensor imaging, DTI; and voxel-based morphometry, VBM) and functional (electroencephalography, EEG; and event-related potentials, EPRs) methods are briefly discussed with suggested further readings. The paper ends with future directions using these methodologies to explore brain changes in response to second language teaching and learning experience.

Kick-starting 2020 with a few talks!

The new year has just started, and our lab is already busy with several talks this week! Specifically:

-Christos will deliver a talk at the Ringvorlesung Multilingual Mind at the Department of Linguistics, University of Konstanz, on Tuesday 7/1 at 5 pm. The title will be “The effects of bilingualism on brain structure

-Toms will present a paper at the Experimental Psychology Society (EPS) London meeting on Thursday 9/1 at 12.00. The title of the paper will be “The effects of bilingualism on the structure of the hippocampus and on memory performance in ageing bilinguals

-Toms will also give a talk at the annual conference of the Association for Science Education on Saturday 11/1 at 14.00 . The title of the talk will be “Effects of bilingualism on healthy ageing and dementia

See you there!

New pre-print: Bilingualism and neurodegenerative disorders beyond Alzheimer’s Disease

Voits, T., Pliatsikas, C., Robson, H, Rothman, J.(2019): Beyond Alzheimer’s Disease: Bilingualism and Other Types of Neurodegeneration

To access, click here

Bilingualism has been argued to have an impact on cognition and brain structure. Such effects have been reported in healthy children and young adults, but also in ageing adults, including clinical ageing populations. For example, bilingualism may significantly contribute to the delaying of the expression of Alzheimer’s dementia symptoms. If bilingualism plays an ameliorative role against neurodegeneration, it is possible that it would have similar effects for other neurodegenerative disorders, including Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s Diseases; however, relevant evidence remains limited. Herein, we provide a focused literature review on the effects of these progressive neurological disorders on cognition and brain structure, examine how the affected functions and brain regions map to those suggested to be impacted by bilingualism, and report the limited evidence of the impact of bilingualism on these conditions. We then examine the value of making links across neurodegenerative disorders and bilingualism, proposing that available evidence warrants claims for bilingualism-related effects more generally, with an eye at future research to fill in gaps in our understanding.

New paper on bilingualism and Multiple Sclerosis, in Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism

Aveledo, F.Higueras, Y.Marinis, T.Bose, A.Pliatsikas, C.Meldaña-Rivera, A.Martínez-Ginés, M. L.García-Domínguez, J.Lozano-Ros, A.Cuello, J. P. and Goicochea-Briceño, H. (2019) Multiple sclerosis and bilingualism: some initial findings. To appear in Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism.

To access, click here


Bilingualism has been suggested to be beneficial for executive control and could have positive long-term effects by delaying the onset of symptoms of degenerative diseases. This research investigated for the first time the impact of bilingualism on the executive control, specifically the monitoring and inhibitory control, in individuals with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a neurodegenerative disease which commonly causes deficiencies in the cognitive system. Bilingual and monolingual adults, with and without an MS diagnosis, performed a flanker task in two degrees of monitoring demands (high monitoring vs. low monitoring). Results showed that bilingual MS patients had similar inhibitory control and monitoring abilities to healthy bilingual controls. In contrast, monolingual MS patients showed similar inhibitory control but significantly worse monitoring abilities compared to monolingual healthy controls. We propose that the similar behaviour between bilingual groups suggests that bilingualism might counteract cognitive deficits related to MS, especially with respect to monitoring. The high monitoring cost observed in monolingual patients seems related to underlying deficits in the monitoring and possibly switching, executive control abilities commonly impaired in MS patients from early stages. Our findings provide some preliminary evidence for the cognitive reserve hypothesis in bilingual MS patients

Call for Papers: Conference on Multilingualism (COM) 2020 @ the Centre of Literacy and Multilingualism, University of Reading.


The next Conference on Multilingualism 2020 (COM2020) will be hosted by the Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM) at the University of Reading (UK) from the 23rd to the 25th of June 2020.

The conference explores all aspects of multilingualism in the fields of linguistics, psychology, neurology, sociology, and educational sciences. We particularly welcome papers that address issues related to the five CeLM themes: Language and Literacy, Education, Neuroscience, Health and Migration. The call for oral and poster presentations is now open. Please submit abstracts on EasyChair by following this link.

Deadline for abstract submission:  7th January 2020

Outcome of review process: 7th February 2020

Conference URL:

Conference Email: